EARLY CAPRA

OSCAR’S PAST    –    WHEN THE ROAD WAS ROYAL

THREE-TIME ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS

 

Frank Capra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingrid Bergman
(Army Weekly photo)

Meryl Streep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

——————————————————————————————————————–Rick’s Journal    –      MY FILM CAREER

Flight
Frank Capra
1929

This is a silly romantic comedy/melodrama which Frank Capra did not make interesting or memorable, just watchable. 

All the aerial shots, which everyone loved then and everyone still loves, are always a bore to me (the cheekily edited ones in Top Gun of course excepted, along with the madly scored ones in Apocalypse Now).  In his book The Name Above the Title, in which Capra proves himself capable of savaging himself, he clearly likes this film of his.  And what does he write about almost entirely?  —  the aerial shots.

The expressive face of Lila Lee helps the film, especially in a scene with Jack Holt (SPOILER ALERT !) involving a dropped ring which she finally realizes he had meant to give her.  How much she conveys without dialogue reminded me of similar silent film moments.

Jack Holt is good.  Writer/actor Ralph Graves is an unimpressive performer.  He is uninteresting with the kind of sappy countenance and manner popular then.

SPOILER ALERT!  An example of lapse of taste and neglect of character:  Death forgotten, and followed by unfunny comedy:  The Graves character, after their plane crash, has just seen a member of his unit through death.  Making for one of the film’s countless clichés, the dying man is of course the guy who made Graves’ life miserable throughout the movie’s running time.  Survivor Graves is finally rescued by the Jack Holt character who, for the last reel, hasn’t spoken to him except to humiliate him.  And Graves, the plot’s untrusted flyer, flies the rescue plane back to home base.  Why?  Is Holt injured?

Anyway:  Graves has just been rescued from a dire predicament, just fought Nicaraguan rebels, just held the hand of a dying comrade and watched him die  —  and, to entertain himself, does loop-the-loops all the way back to the flying field, then flies over low several times to scare those on the field waiting for the plane to land.

This is followed by a supposedly comic vomiting scene.

Wasn’t anyone thinking?  What was genius Capra thinking?

We end with the Graves character training new recruits, imitating the disrespect that Holt showed earlier.  Moral, apparently satisfying and satisfied:  No one learns anything.

The scenes of the Nicaraguans fighting the marines look good.  Those scenes felt real.  (Capra writes in his book that Nicaragua was La Mesa.)

Frank Capra’s informative, delicious autobiography is called The Name Above the Title.  Macmillan, 1971.

COMING SOON to Rick’s Flicks:  “Best Books About Film.”

NEXT FRIDAY POST September 14

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

GETTING PERSONAL

selected diary jottings from

Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Robert Z. Leonard
1940

I am charmed by this film which I have just seen for the first time since I was taken to see it by my Uncle Roy at the Palace Theatre on Forsythe Street in my beloved Jacksonville.

Its pace is perfect.  Oh!  Did movies move in those days!  Fluent cameras moved.  (Notice the flow and movement of especially the first part of Gone with the Wind.)

This non-admirer of Greer Garson must admit that she makes an excellent Elizabeth Bennett.  I remember a critic remarking that she is more an MGM heroine than she is Miss Bennet.  But plucky Greer here always has the pluck of Austen’s celebrated character.

Laurence Olivier looks exactly like Mr. Darcy, and he is convincing and dashing in his unlikeableness.  He once or twice is guilty of those squeaky chokes and gurgles which he sometimes uses to express embarrassment and tension.  But he thoroughly understands the character, and this is a good performance.

Frieda Inescort

Edmund Gwen is very good, and so is Mary Boland.  Frieda Inescort, as Miss Bingley, the sister of the eligible bachelor, is outstanding and very handsome.

Edna May Oliver is good playing Edna May Oliver with impeccable timing.

I think this film may have a higher reputation than it deserves  on the basis of its production values.  The Academy Award-winning sets and the costuming are excellent.  But of course it is studio-bound.   What wasn’t then, especially from MGM.  And there are some glaring process shots warring against the meticulously created milieu.

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getting very personal

The Carpetbaggers
Edward Dmytryk
1964

 

I finally watched this film to see Alan Ladd again, to see him in something I had never viewed.  His performance is okay if you grant him the general outré-ness of the movie itself.  It’s vulgar, deliberately harsh and shocking (for its time).  It is sill vulgar in this or any time.

I still remember being shocked b y the billboard advertising the film in Times Square  —  at Christmastime.

The Alan Ladd character and the Lew Ayers character are the only two in the story with any class.  The other people are despicable, and the novelist Harold Robbins probably didn’t know enough to care whether we care about them or not.

Bob Cummings is good as an avaricious, craven sonofabitch.

Pinterest photo, Wiki Commons

 

So, I saw the  beloved Alan one more time and fear that in the farewell scene with Carroll Baker he might be performing under the influence; but of course he manages.  Like Montgomery Clift and, say, Audie Murphy, he was always a self-conscious actor, but he was a great star  —  and when paired with Veronica Lake, half of a matchless duo.

See Rick’s Flicks 6/20/18.

 

 

 

NEXT FRIDAY POST August 17

Until then,

See you AT the movies,

Rick

Wiki Commons public domain image

MORE FROM 40s HOLLYWOOD — AND VIVIEN LEIGH NEWS

Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER

Variety Girl
George Marshall
1947
original songs by Frank Loesser

The exposition delivered in the first scene by Joan Caulfield and Barbara Stanwyck is so clumsy that I was ready to give the film up.  But I stayed, became engrossed and,  finally, delighted.

The highpoint for me this view around was the same as when I saw the initial release of Variety Girl:  Alan Ladd and Dorothy Lamour are sensational introducing the song Tallahassee.  (It would become a hit and be recorded by the Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby.)  Dorothy Lamour is in general a surprisingly vibrant presence in the film.  Once the jungle princess cast off her sarong, she became an effervescent  charmer.

the Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby

The slim plot is, of course, an excuse for promoting as many stars of the Paramount lot as could be reasonably accomodated.  The character of the studio boss (Frank Ferguson) is funny; and so is the running gag which has our heroine Catherine Brown (Mary Hatcher), aka Amber LaVonne,  somehow always involving him in water:  a bucket; a pool, the sound stage river.  Olga San Juan is perfect, and hilarious, as the other Amber LaVonne.

At the end of a very brief skit Gary Cooper utters the best-timed “Giddyap” that anyone could imagine.  Robert Preston appears even more briefly but proves as sterling as always.  Billy De Wolfe does food again (remember “Meex meex, toss toss…”?)  Directors George Marshall and Mitchell Leisen play parts, have lines.  Cecil B. DeMille, on his set, is one hundred percent believable playing his arrogant self.

A young DeForest Kelley is pleasant  —  and super sexy!  DeForest Kelly!  —  as the other half of the young love interest.  Pearl Bailey sings I’m Tired. 

the great onscreen couple, Lake and Ladd, with Robert Preston

My disappointment came with seeing Veronica Lake, in an autograph-hound skit, enter on Alan Ladd’s arm  —  then never appearing again until the film’s candid curtain call.  ( She is still with Alan Ladd then  and gives the impression of needing him and being dependent on him.)

 

 

 

 

 

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Rick’s Flicks has added a PAGE to its FILE ON VIVIEN LEIGH

Click on Vivien Leigh up top here, then scroll down and click on “A Making Of…”.

NEXT FRIDAY POST July 6

Until then,
See you AT the movies,
Rick

ASSORTED SHORT TAKES

RICK’S JOURNAL  —  MY FILM CAREER

Hollywood in the Teens and the Twenties:  Personal Reflections

The Bargain  —  Reginald Barker  —  1914

screenplay by William H. Clifford and Thomas Ince
with William S. Hart, J. Frank Burke and Clara Williams

This is a sophisticated production with good photography of interiors as well as exteriors.  There is a stunning Hitchcock-like pan within the Border Rest Cafe and Saloon.  Time is taken to develop all characters in this 75-minute western.  All performers are good, everyone having an acting edge on Hart himself despite all his experience (which, admittedly, was stage experience).

The Bargain is a visual story visually told.  An outstanding example:  As those who will arrest Two-Gun Jim are at the door to his room, others make known to him that they are at the window.  He hears that they are there.  In this silent world we, of course, do not.  But one of the two men we see through the window moves his hand ; and we know that he has made a sound that Jim hears.

The conclusion to the tale consists in a bargain between the sheriff and our outlaw Two-Gun hero who is trying to go straight.  For 1914 it makes for a shockingly cynical ending but a happy one for the romance.

The Grand Duchess and the Waiter  —  Malcolm St. Claire  —  1926

The Grand Duchess and the Waiter is a perfect example of those films I once heard Jean Renoir describe as the most beautiful films ever made.  He said this of the films made in Hollywood during the twenties.  This picture, chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best of its year, is captivating, lovingly photographed, subtly acted, and meaningless.  It could not be more accomplished, but it amounts to nothing at all.

Adolph Menjou again proves himself the most subtle of silent actors, if never deviating from his screen persona.  Florence Vidor is every inch a duchess, and all the well-cast supporting players do dandy jobs.

Menjou ten years later in the famous STAGE DOOR

Almost all the fun is visual.  The script, however, lacks invention as it seeks to show how an inexperienced waiter can fail.  The happy conclusion is trite and based on the dime-store psychology that permeated American films of the era.  Love makes the world go round, even if it’s between two people who have only just met and know so little about each other that they cannot even know if they have anything in common.

Enchanting froth.

SECOND THOUGHTS;  Can I insist that the film mean something?  If this were a French film, would I see it as a charming comedy of manners and praise froth?

screenplay by Pierre Collings
adaptation by John Lynch, based on the play La Grande duchesse et le gar⊆on by Alfred Savoir
photography by Lee Garmes

NEXT “Friday” POST Wednesday June 20
Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

RETURN OF RICK’S FLICKS

Rick’s Flicks is back after a three-month unforeseen, unavoidable delay.  Thank you for staying with me.  Please keep coming back.

RECOMMENDED READING

Glenn Frankel’s book High Noon is a must-read not just for devotees of one of the great westerns.  It is of interest for anyone pursuing Hollywood history or the work of Fred Zinneman, Carl Foreman or Stanley Kramer, or the career of Gary Cooper.  Subtitled the Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American classic, Frankel’s page-turner of a book reads like a novel.  Much of it amounts to a mini-history of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee which called to its hearings some of the major figures who created High Noon.

Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON

The most intriguing parts of the book are those which look at who was responsible for the writing and, especially, who really did the editing.  Frankel rehearses the fabled history of the editing of High Noon.  He makes it a good detective story  and, for this reader, comes up with a plausible and fair judgment of the competing narratives.

NEXT FRIDAY POST May 4

Until then, see you at the movies,

Rick

A DON’T MISS FROM 2013

If you missed The Immigrant as I did on its first release, find it and view it now.

Incomparable Cotillard
photo by Anguerde

Of what better leads can one dream?  Cotillard, Phoenix and Renner.  All three are as fine as film acting can be.  Marion Cotillard is excruciatingly subtle, especially when she speaks with her eyes rather than with words.

Joaquin Phoenix adds one more portrait to a stout list of self-doubting and/or self-hating melancholy souls.  Jeremy Renner as the small-time magician dancing and  floating through life may suffer less, may be a shallower character.  But he proves himself capable of making his own kind of sacrifice.  Renner is so versatile that it seems not quite accurate to describe him as perfectly cast here.

Joaquin Phoenix
photo by Aphrodite

Set during one of the peaks of historic immigration as waves of newcomers inundate Ellis Island, the story is a tale not often told of the perils, in the situation, for a woman  alone on the island, or even on the boat before arrival.

It is an ugly story, beautifully told.

Jeremy Renner
photo by handbook

 

 

The engrossing cinematography captures the sepia of era photographs.  And the final shot ranks at least with that of The Third Man as two of the greatest final frames in film history.

The Immigrant James Gray 2013
photography Darius Khondji
production design Happy Massee

NEXT FRIDAY POST December 22

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

GOLD SPLICED IN

GOLD          Karl Hartl          1934

The exposition is clear, simple and always interesting.  Shown rather than told.  The narrative is a smooth flow.  The photography in this near-SciFi film from Nazi Germany is clear and highly professional.  Am I being condescending?  What else to expect from UFA?

The story,  today, has to seem  not very original, however:  some German scientists’ attempt at alchemy, building to a moral dilemma  —  scientific and commercial success vs. the social good.  We’re talking gold  here  —  and materialism  —  and, towards the end, inklings of globalism.

Gold comes out of thirties Germany; but I detect no Naziism.  The individual who steals the German scientific secrets, and murders to do so, is a Scot who is capitalistically self-centered and selfish.  Is the struggle between this Scot industrialist bad guy and the German good guys perhapsmore propagandistic than I have taken into account?

Albers, in center, as Dietrich’s lover in Von Sternberg’s THE BLUE ANGEL

The directing is straightforward and competent.  The film is well-paced with a lot of effective silences.  And the actors are successful.  Hans Albers stars as the principal good guy German scientist  —  principal because he’s the one left alive.  According to Katz (Film Encyclopedia), Albers made no films between 1935 and 1943.  Interesting.  Katz also reports that Brigitte Helm retired in 1935,  He comments that the silent star (now posthumously world famous as a result of the longevity of Metropolis) was less successful in talkies.  I do not agree, based on her performance here.

Some footage from Gold appears in Curt Siodmak’s 1953 American film The Magnetic Monster, starring inveterate monster chaser Richard Carlson.  The climactic scene of Gold, in which our German good guy destroys the alchemical machine stolen by the Scotch bad guy, is brilliantly and matchingly spliced into the conclusion of Siodmak’s film.

On right, Richard Carlson who after such diverse films as TOO MANY GIRLS, HOLD THAT GHOST AND THE LITTLE FOXES, became creature chaser par excellence in the second phase of his career.

The Magnetic Monster          Curt Siodmak          1953
editor, Herbert L. Strock ; production designer, George Van Marter

NEXT FRIDAY POST November 17

Until then,
See you AT the movies
Rick